Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Talmud Torah 1:07
7: If the *minhag hamedina* (local custom) was to pay the
teacher, he brings him his payment. [the father] is obligated to
pay for his education until he learns the entire Written Torah.
In a place where the custom is to teach the Written Torah for
money, it is permissible to teach for a salary. However, it is
forbidden to teach the Oral Law for a salary, as it says: *R'eh
limadti etchem hukkim umishpatim ka'asher tzivani hashem* (See, I
have taught you laws and judgements just as Hashem commanded me)
(Devarim [Deuteronomy]4:5) just as I [Moshe] studied for free,
so you learned from me for free. Similarly, when you teach in
the future, teach for free, just as you learned from me. If he
doesn't find anyone to teach him for free, he should find someone
to teach him for pay, as it says: *Emet k'ne* (acquire - or buy -
truth) (Mishlei [Proverbs] 23:23) I might think that [in that
case] he should teach others for money, therefore Scripture says:
*v'al timkor* (and do not sell it) ) )ibid.); so you see that it
is forbidden to teach for pay, even if his teacher taught him for
Q1: Why the distinction between the written law and the oral
KB: We've always been allowed to pay scribes, eh?
YE: Another response: someone who is teaching the pure text is
merely a facilitator - teaching grammar, lexicon, history etc.
Therefore, he is not in the model of Moshe Rabbenu, from whom the
entire halakha of free teaching is derived. On the other hand,
the Rebbe who teaches the Torah sheba'al peh is teaching Halakha,
mussar (ethics); hashkafa (Jewish perspectives and values) etc.
That is the model of Moshe Rabbenu.
Q2: If it is prohibited to teach the oral law for pay, how can
someone learn from a teacher who is charging money? Shouldn't
the teacher also be a role model?
KB: The teacher ought to be one. But if such a sterling person
can't be found we work with what we can get.
YE: I agree - but note that R does not say that the father hires
such a person - in which case he would be setting his son up with
an unworthy role model. R relegates this Halakha to your own
study - find a teacher, even if you have to pay. Remember, R.
Meir followed on foot while Acher taught him on Shabbat. I don't
believe that R. Meir's father would have hired Acher as a Rebbe
for his son, but someone mature enought to seek wisdom is also,
hopefully, mature enough to sift out the negative modelling here.
Obviously, this is not the ideal.
Q3: The question which screams out from this Halakha: how can
we (Jewish educators) get salaries for our work?
KB: I always found it problematic myself. However, there seems to
be a lot of literature on the subject. The Chofetz Chaim perhaps?
YE: Clearly a large question: However, it seems that we pay all
such people (teachers, judges etc.) *s'char batala* - the money
they would have made had they involved themselves in business,
instead of community affairs. See Ketubot 105 - also, Keith, you
hit it on the head with the Chafetz Chaim - see Biur Halakha, OH
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